30. The Glamour of Grammar. A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical Englishby Roy Peter Clark
Clark's guide is aimed at anyone looking to improve their written language skills in English. It's divided into four parts: Words for tips on how to build vocabulary, including inventing words and reading dictionaries for fun; Points for how to deal with punctuation; Standards for reminders on good writing standards, such as how to avoid sexism in writing easily and how to steer clear from "hypergrammar" (I personally would have called this "how to avoid using Strunk and White as your Bible..."); and finally, Meaning that focuses on meanings behind grammatical structures and what they convey to the reader.
Although it's all about grammar, this book is a quick read. Clark really is at home with words, and most of his phrases and headings are a delight to read. Yet, his style never resorts to the jokey and snarky style of many modern grammar books. I have enjoyed them as well, but Clark's book follows his own rules of writing in a manner that is based on good grammar effortlessly with a very friendly tone.
31. Isänpäivä by Pirjo Hassinen ("Father's Day")
Olli Penger is a successful detective novel writer who loves to dwell on the gory details of his victims' murders but who is unable to write a believable kissing scene. To him, all of the victims in his novels still bear the face of his ex-wife Marja and instead of reacting in real life to their separation, he kills her again and again in his novels. But when a family member commits a horrifying crime, Penger decides to take responsibility by killing the detective genre and his detective character--whom Penger has always tried to become in his personal life.
This novel that seems on the surface extremely simple due to its easy readability and subject matter (gory crime!) is actually quite complex, so please keep on reading after the very first pages that are nothing but a brutal rape and murder scene (a few pages out of Penger's novel).
Because Penger has created the detective character Tähtö partly in his own image, partly as a man Penger desires to be, the journey into completely revamping the detective is unseltting because of Penger's pain and urgency to deal with the actual gory details in his personal life. It is heartbreaking to watch this character work on dealing with his pain in the only way he can--by resurrecting his dead characters and in effect apologizing to them instead of dealing with what is going on around him in living rooms and on the streets.
His act is a counter-reaction to a culture that wants to read about disgusting murders as long as we the readers know more about the people solving the crimes than the victims. And through this, author Hassinen jabs at novelists who are caught in the trap of mass-producing the ever-popular Scandinavian crime novel: they use violence as a backdrop for their often silent and stoic main characters that we look up to, but actually we would never read about those characters if they were not dealing with violence
The final question posed to Penger by media is, How much he and his novels are responsible for violence in his family, or in society in general. And there is nothing Penger can say in reply. Another question underlying in the final pages is what are we justified to sell in the name of entertainment, because people will devour violent stories whether they were published as fictional detective stories or as unconfirmed rumors on tabloid pages. Can we draw a line somewhere? Is there even a line to be drawn?
The book gave me a lot to think about, but at the same time there was so much subtle criticism crammed into the book that it was difficult to sometimes focus on each issue to recognize its real-life partner. I'll happily read this book again to be able to pay better attention to the subtleties.
Unfinished book of the month: Conundrum. An Extraordinary Personal Narrative of Transsexualism by Jan Morris
This was one of the two books recommended by Nancy Pearl that discuss the experience of going through a sex change from a personal point of view. Jan Morris wrote this book in 1974, making her one of the first ones to give a loud, resounding voice to transsexualism. So it was not the topic that made my interest go away: it was just the way the book was written. The time when Jan was still James is all about stories of upper middle class British school and choir experiences, and... you know me. You know my reaction to any British school house stuff, and I'm sorry to say that Ms. Morris became a victim of my violent dislike to reading about rich kids at a boarding school (and then the army!). So, when the notification from the library came to return the book, I did not renew it.
I'll be getting the other recommended book soon, though!
Language professional by day; knitter and crocheter by night. The rest of the time on buses and waiting rooms in Seattle is spent reading, hopefully with a good beverage nearby.
I often skip synopses in this blog and instead focus on the elements that got me hooked on a story or turned me away from it. My reading habits have only two absolutes, and I'm doing my best to make them more negotiable: I love unreliable narrators; cannot stand British school stories.
Comments and recommendations are encouraged to knock me out of my reading comfort zones.
If you don't like to leave a comment in this public blog, feel free to send recommendations to matildareadsblog at gmail dot com